Spend Tepper's Money: DP Edition
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
by Russell Varner
Even though there is still more than a year until MLS Charlotte kicks off, it's never too early to look at potential Designated Players for the club, right? This is the fun stuff. (More on what DPs are in a minute.)
It will be incredibly interesting to see who exactly the club will target for its first major signing, as Zoran Krneta was not exactly specific about the kinds of players the team would be targeting. He mentioned being willing to look in "leagues where others have not" and that if they were to bring in a big name European star, he would “be hungry, be a leader and he will also have legs to play 90 minutes all season.”
So, that crosses off players similar to Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Mario Balotelli (destroying my dreams before they even start).
But you can expect the player to be an attacking force. As of last week, 45 of the 56 Designated Players in MLS are listed as forwards, strikers, wingers or attacking midfielders.
A Designated Player, for those new to MLS, is one that a team can sign outside of the salary cap, allowing ambitious clubs to bring in bigger names/more talented players than they would otherwise be able to bring in. For more on that, here's a handy guide that reminds you the LA Galaxy's David Beckham was indeed the league's first DP.
Back to the list: There is only one DP defender in the league today, and zero DP goaltenders. While Krneta is known for zigging where others zag, it would be a mistake to assume that means he wants to spend DP money on defense in an attacking league like MLS.
Additionally, it would make sense that Charlotte would follow Atl*nta’s model of DP signing – meaning going after young North, Central, and South Americans as opposed to Europeans. This might cross off the players in the photo above, but Atl*nta and others have proven that this method works. You can probably expect a DP or two to be players you have not heard of before. That does not mean they are a bad signings – few in the U.S. knew who Josef Martinez was before Atl*nta United signed him, and now he's the face of the team, if not the league.
With all that said, let's look at a few players David Tepper and Zoran Krneta might focus on in the next year, a way-too-far-in-advance list of potential MLS Charlotte Designated Players.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernández: Okay, this would definitely contradict the “you’ve probably never heard of who they will go after” statement I made just a few paragraphs earlier, but if he is still available and wants to make a move, it would make too much sense not to sign Chicharito. He is just 31, would instantly become one of the most recognizable stars in MLS and would instantly bring creditability to the team. (Buying a Mexican star worked pretty well on and off the field for LAFC.) He is also constantly, constantly linked with moves to MLS, despite the fact that he has stated that he is happy in Europe. In fact, he might be on the Galaxy by the time you get to this write-up, so Charlotte may never even get a chance at the Mexican star. If they have that chance though, they should take it.
José Juan Macías: This begins the “who is that” portion of the list. Macías, a 20-year-old Mexican, has lit it up the last two years at Liga MX club León, tallying 16 goals in 32 matches for the club. Yes, he is averaging a goal every other game for the club, which I shouldn’t have to tell you is very good. It may cost a pretty penny to convince him to come stateside, but the potential on paper is very enticing.
Brian Lozano: The next best thing to a goalscorer in soccer is a potent creative force. This is where this 25-year-old Uruguayan comes in. Since joining Santos of Liga MX prior to the 2017-18 season, he has tallied 15 assists in 81 games. This may not seem like much, but just look at his stats entering January 9th: In 17 league games, he has nine goals and six assists. Those six assists and 15 goals+assists are both good for the second most in the league.
Víctor Guzmán: Know what is better than a goalscorer or a creative force? Someone who can do both! Enter Guzmán, a soon-to-be 25-year-old Mexican who has 28 goals and 10 assists in his last 71 appearances for Pachuca in Liga MX.
Yeferson Soteldo: If Liga MX is not where the team wants to target a DP, Brazil’s Série A would be another good option. Look at Soteldo for instance. This 22-year-old has already tallied 17 caps with the Venezuelan national team and had 15 goals+assists for one of the best clubs in the league – Santos FC. (This club may sound familiar... it's the same club Neymar played for.)
Nahuel Bustos: For even more South American flair, check out Nahuel Bustos – a 21-year-old Argentinian who has 11 goals+assists in 15 matches for Argentinian side Club Atlético Talleres. Heck, he has had a hand in 45% of the club’s goals. He recently returned from loan to Pachuca of Liga MX and is one to keep an eye on over the next year.
Bobby Wood: Remember him? The former USMNT regular has fallen out of favor in Germany, as he is currently in an ugly standoff with his second-division club, Hamburger SV. However, Wood is 27 years old, meaning he still has some good years left in him – and some new scenery could do wonders. Don’t forget: Wood scored 17 goals in 31 games for Union Berlin in 2015-2016. If he can do that in the German second league, imagine what he could do to MLS defenses.
Florinel Coman: And here is the “zig where others zag” pick of the bunch. Krneta said in an interview that “a player might be in a league that isn’t good enough, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good enough.” Coman would fit that description to a T. The 21-year-old Romanian has 18 goals+assists in 17 league matches for FCSB of the Romanian Liga I, already topping his total from a year ago (14 in 20 in 2018/19). There are also examples of Romanians succeeding in MLS (Alexandru Mitriță of New York City FC).
... Alright, screw it.
Gareth Bale: Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order. What if ‘Charlotte’ could find a spot in that infamous top three? To say the Welsh superstar has fallen from grace at Real Madrid would be a massive understatement, as the 30-year-old has gone from scoring one of the most incredible goals in Champions League Final history to playing in just 14 of Madrid’s 26 games this season. Bale clearly needs a new start somewhere, and the Carolinas are known for some great golf courses. It's a match made in heaven.
Luka Modric: Crazier things have happened. D.C. United shocked many by going after the former Ballon d’Or winner, who has apparently turned down the move. But who is to say his mind won’t change in a year? Modric would instantly become one of the best players in MLS history and watching him pull the strings of our offense would be a pure treat to any soccer enthusiast. If David Tepper wanted to make a major statement, it would be hard to top this move.
What do you think? Who should Charlotte target for their Designated Player spots? For their first signing? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or join us in the Mint City Collective Slack to discuss.